In the opening arc of writer Jonathan Hickman's Marvel NOW! volume of "Avengers," Earth was under attack from a strange group of aliens bombarding our planet with "Origin Bombs" designed to accelerate the evolution of mankind. Those bombs radically changed the areas they exploded in, transforming old life as new life forms emerged, but until recently, no one knew exactly what was happening at the Origin Bomb sites.
In "Avengers" #14, Hickman, co-writer Nick Spencer and artist Stefano Caselli kicked off a new arc titled "The Signal," showing the weird and mysterious inhabitants of the various bomb sites building structures and sending out a signal to an unrevealed life form. CBR News spoke with Spencer about his experience working with Hickman on the arc, which serves as a prelude to the cosmic Marvel Universe event "Infinity." Plus, exclusive art!
CBR News: Nick, when we first started talking about your work on "Secret Avengers," you mentioned you were a huge fan of Jonathan Hickman's work -- especially his "Secret Warriors" run. How did it feel to be asked to collaborate with him on "Avengers?"
Nick Spencer: It feels very cool. That's a nice call to get. It was about five in the morning here in London, and Jon sent me an email asking to call him. I did and he said, "How would you like to write 'Avengers' with me?" That's not something you say no to. It was a big honor. I'm a huge fan of Jonathan's and he's a good friend.
I'm excited about the assignment on two levels. It's the chance to be part of Marvel's flagship book -- to have your name on the core "Avengers" title is a privilege not many writers get. Also, it's an opportunity to work with Jon. We've worked in similar spheres before where we got to collaborate a little, like on the books in the Ultimate line, but this is much more intensive.
How would you describe the division of labor between you and Jonathan?
Our first two issues, the Savage Land story in "Avengers" #12-13, were more my design. On those two issues, Jonathan wanted to do something with the Origin Bomb kids Hyperion had taken under his wing. It was meant to be a "day in the life" style issue. So with #12-13, I really got to invent and create a little more. Then on our current prelude to "Infinity" arc, Jonathan had more specific beats we needed to hit in order to set things up for the event. So this story came with a little more detail in terms of beat sheets.
Really, how it's worked though, is that I do a script based off a summary or beat sheet. I'll do all the script and all the dialogue. Then Jon goes through and does a pass at it. He puts his feel on some of the dialogue and ups the visuals where he thinks things should be emphasized. Then we both take one more final look at it.
It's been a perfect collaboration. I've done some other co-writing stuff, and these days a lot of co-writing gigs in comics are hand-offs or a writer just working off a plot that another writer laid out. This wasn't like that at all. This was much more actual co-writing. It was really fun to get to do that. It was a great learning experience for me to see what Jonathan would do with a script of mine -- what he would add and what he would tweak or change. That was really informative for me.
How long is your collaboration? Does it wrap up with the end of "The Signal," or does it continue into the "Infinity" tie-in arc of "Avengers?"
It wraps with the end of the prelude. We both have really busy schedules right now in terms of Marvel and creator-owned work, but I would always welcome the chance to come back and collaborate with Jonathan again.
Let's move into the characters and story of "The Signal." You write some members of the "Avengers" on a regular basis over in your "Secret Avengers" series, but here you're tackling a larger cast -- are there any characters in this book you don't normally get a chance to play with and are enjoying the chance to write?
I really fell in love with writing Hyperion, especially in those first couple of issues. I'm also a big Manifold fan. I've loved that character since Jon introduced him in "Secret Warriors" and I definitely tried to give him some good lines.
Plus, part of the fun of the book is getting to write some of the biggest guns. I feel a bit spoiled in that regard. Just last week I wrote a scene between Captain America, Iron Man and Bruce Banner. When you write those characters for a few pages you kind of say to yourself, "Wow. This is it right?" It's a very cool thing to get to do. Plus you get to write those scenes in a book where you know they're going to have lasting impact and be read by a lot of people. That's a real nice treat.
Let's talk about what we've seen so far in the first two chapters of "The Signal" in "Avengers" #14 and #15. It appears we're experiencing the fallout from the series' first arc, where the alien Ex Nihilo bombarded Earth with Origin Bombs in an attempt to make the planet sentient. Is that correct?
Yeah, it's all connected. Part of the luxury I have is even before this, I knew a lot of Jon's long-term plans for the book. He's building up to something so massive that people are going to talk about it for years.
Right now he's still in a phase where we're putting things together and we're just beginning to see how these things converge and connect. Once they do, people are going to be knocked out by what it all means. In this arc you very much see how it all connects back to the Origin Bomb attack; what that did to the planet and what that means for the planet. It's all coming full circle and you'll see other things from throughout the first 13 issues start to dovetail and collide with each other as we move forward through this arc.
In issues #14-15 we saw how A.I.M., the villains from your "Secret Avengers" series, were making things worse for the planet by waking up what was inside the pod they lifted from Norway. Did the sequences with A.I.M. occur before or after the events of "Secret Avengers" #5, where we saw the aftermath of the Avengers' disastrous attack on A.I.M. Island?
That's a good question, but I can't comment on it right now. I will say in a broader context Jon always planned to bring A.I.M. into this story -- they didn't just appear in the book because I'm co-writing it. He set up stuff with them back in issue #11 and his first issue that focused on Hyperion. They've been a part of this story throughout and we knew they had one of the Origin Pods.
Jon created both A.I.M. Island and the new Scientist Supreme. He was very generous to let me run with them over in "Secret Avengers." He's been really supportive of what I've done in that book with the A.I.M. High Council concept, so to bring all of that under one roof and add the connective tissue to "Secret Avengers" is great.
Have you worked with artist Stefano Caselli before? What do you feel he brings to this story?
I have not worked with Stefano and it's a huge honor. I'm a big, big, fan ever since his "Secret Warriors" days. When they said he was doing this arc I couldn't have been happier -- he's a perfect for it. He's gotten to do a couple of new character designs that are quintessentially Stefano and are so great to look at. I love his Captain America.
He draws action and motion so well, but he also handles the character moments. He's great at the acting. He's the total package. He and Frank Martin are an incredible team.
What can we expect from these final few chapters of "The Signal" and how they set up Hickman's "Infinity" event?
What makes this arc really rewarding is by the end you'll see how all of these things that have been introduced over these initial issues are related. By the end of it everything is put in place for something explosive. People are going to be really excited by where we leave it -- this story has one of those last pages that get you very excited for the next issue of "Avengers" and "Infinity" #1. "Infinity" is a huge deal for the entire Marvel Universe. It's Jonathan doing what he does best.
Marvel's "Avengers" #16 by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Stefano Caselli goes on sale July 17, with #17 releasing August 7